A U.S. State Department official says the federal government will provide official and ceremonial support for Utah's bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

"The Department of State is committed to providing support to your efforts, particularly in the international arena," said Bernard Engel, international athletic program coordinator for the State Department.Engel was one of several people to address the Utah Sports Authority during its first-ever session, billed by Authority Chairman Ian Cumming as "a tutorial on the Olympic process" for the 15 members comprising the board.

The state agency met for the first time Friday to begin the task of spending $54 million in public money building a bob-sled/luge run, speed-skating rink and ski jump for Utah's Olympic bid.

Cumming called the agency's responsibility one of watching out for Utah's welfare.

"We're acting on behalf of the state and in the best interest of the state," he said while opening the meeting at the Triad Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

Among the speakers giving the board its first official taste of Utah's Olympic movement was Engel, who also represents the State Department in relations with Atlanta, the U.S. city bidding for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Engel said the State Department's network of overseas embassies and its official communication channels would be made available to the Salt Lake Bid Committee for the Olympic Winter Games during its Olympic campaign.

The State Department will work hard to show the U.S. government's commitment to Utah's Olympic bid.

"We're going to make it very clear to foreign governments that our government is behind you," Engel said.

What's more, Engel said, the State Department will try to supply a high-level federal official to join Utah when it appears before the International Olympic Committee in 1991, when the IOC will choose a 1998 host city.

"We will try as hard as we can to get as top level an official as we can," he said.

When Anchorage, Alaska, lost the bid for the 1994 Winter Olympics - without the presence of a high-level U.S. official - bidding nations such as Sweden and Norway had royalty and a prime minister on hand.